The next two legs of our Oman trip, organized by Timeless Tours, generally followed the coast south of Muscat to the beach at the town of Ra’s Al Hadd. Although only 220 kilometers from Muscat, we spent most of the day driving south, generally paralleling the coast, but through mountains, many, many barren, rock-faced mountains, visiting many sights along the way. These stops included:
- Wadi Daygah Dam, which has been built into a lovely (and of course, perfectly manicured) park in which families can just hang out, as well as enjoy the view. The dam, however, is for more than aesthetics. It also protects a totally rebuilt Omani village from flooding and provides a steady source of water for the date palms on which many villagers depend for their livelihoods;
- Bimah Sinkhole, a hole created by seawater seeping in and degrading underground limestone to the extent that the surface collapsed. This exposed a giant hole partially filled with seawater. The government turned this natural phenomenon into a popular recreational site by smoothing the bottom and building a concrete staircase down to the saltwater pool;
- Fins Beach, a popular stone beach (no fine white sand here), that leds to the so-called White Sea, so known for its particularly clean water. The beach, another popular recreation site, is also the site of some very nice vacation homes.
- Wadi Shab Wadi Tiwi. Wadis are riverbeds that, during rainy season, can be raging torrents as water rushes down from the mountains. During dry season, however, these riverbeds can turn into shallow, gently flowing streams or bone dry valleys. We went past the packed entry to Wadi Shab (in which water carved out and now flows through a cave) and into its next door neighbor, Wadi Tiwi. This stream, which is lined with grasses, palms and other vegetation, leads to tall cliff faces that soar hundreds of feet straight up from the valley floor. The Wadi is lovely, and, like its neighbor, attracts many families for walking, hiking, swimming and picnicking. The road to Wadi Tiwi also passes a small town, Al-ons Village, that has the remnants of a groups of stone huts that were abandoned when the government built new homes for their residents.
- Industrial facilities. The coast, while mostly open, except for a smattering of homes,villages and cities (such as Sur, also has some of the country’s few large scale industrial facilities. These include the country’s largest LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) plant and one of its few desalinization plants. (Oman, unlike UAE, has enough groundwater as to greatly limit the need for expensive desalinization.)
- Sur Dhow Yards, a recently built city of 500,000 that consists of many expensive villas and a number of sheik palaces, including, atop a hill, the palace of the most powerful sheikh in the area. The city is also home to one of the country’s most ancient and most utilitarian of industries: the craft of designing and building traditional dhow fishing boats by hand. We saw a few boats that were in the process of being built, from a small fishing boat to a roughly $500,000 luxury cruiser being built for the Sultan of Qatar. The yard, which is more than 200 years old (and owned by the same family) was littered with wood in all types of preparedness (from logs to finished timber). It also has a small museum with models of ships they have built in the past. The city, in commemoration of its dhow-building history, also has a small outdoor museum which provides examples of the many different types of ships that have been built in the area, from small ferries and fishing dhows to a large "Al Ghanjah" ships that were designed and used for intercontinental naval and trading activity through the mid-20th century.
Sur was also home of the day’s lunch stop, the Sir Beach Restaurant. And since this city is famous for its fresh seafood, we had to try some. Unfortunately, even with the help of our guide, we were unable to get explanations of what type of fish we ordered. We think we had Kingfish Manchurian (in a light, Chinese-style sauce, with soy and sesame sauces, green peppers and onions) with rice and Dragon Prawns (a light chili sauce with shredded cabbage and carrots) with naan. While the food was pretty good, it was not memorable. We also had a couple more fruit smoothies (remember, no alcohol outside of tourist hotels). While we love the mango flavor, we are less fond of avocado.